October 2002: Volume 44, Number 10
Following the Pipeline to Plumbing Online -- Reacquainting Yourself with a Vast Industry
by Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
Long before there was anything called a "water treatment dealer-ship" or "certified installer," trained professionals went around hooking up softeners and filters for citizens concerned about their water. Often, these people also had a vocation that defined them--plumbers. With the advent of the specialized water treatment industry, plumbers are no longer the first people considered when a purified water device installation is needed. Of course, this isn’t to say that many plumbers are unqualified to complete the job. Many do it on a weekly if not daily basis.
This brings us to our website of the month. Plumbers will always have a role in the water treatment industry. Furthermore, the two occupations of water specialist and plumber will most likely be forever intertwined. This may unsettle some, but the fact remains. Perhaps it’s because when many of us think of "plumbers," we see leaky faucets, rotted pipes and water heaters gone bad. Yet when we think of water specialists, we see someone who can correctly identify the chemistry of our water, tell us what makes it taste funny, and provide a practical solution for our problem. Regardless of which sounds more glamorous, both are usually equally capable.
We’ve selected four plumbing-related sites that we knew beforehand contain water treatment aspects, and witness the manner in which they tackle the issues of water treatment and, more specifically, its technologies.
As one quickly gathers when searching the Internet for useful plumbing sites, it’s increasingly difficult to find any without encountering some commercial element. It’s the nature of the beast, folks. Contrary to popular belief, I also do not have any stock in folding shower seats--a "luxury" item, according to this site. Who knew?
Scanning the list of categories on the site’s home page, I find myself… shocked! There, smack dab in the middle of the page, sits a category under the heading, Fun Stuff , with sub-headings of "Quotes," "Doo-Doo," "Jokes," "Gifts" and "History." One of my favorite quotes, and there are plenty here, is credited to Frank Zappa, who said, "Communism won’t work because people like to own stuff." "Doo-Doo" is exactly what you think it is. One of the jokes listed here gets right to the point -- "a good flush beats a full house every time." Predictably, "Gifts" provides an extensive list for that plumbing connoisseur in the family. Finally, "History" takes us on a "myth and reality" tour of Thomas Crapper. Enough said.
Onward and upward, the one category that sticks out in flashing neon lights (in my mind, at least) is Water Treatment. I also notice a few sub-headings visible including "Filters," "Softeners," "Acid Neutralizers," "UV" (ultraviolet), "Reverse Osmosis," etc. Once I click on "Filters," I began to worry about the viability of this site. I see the mention of a product index and can only imagine alist the size of my tax forms. I avoid it like Typhoid Mary. Instead, I scroll down and acquaint myself with numerous specifications for housings and cartridges in hot or cold water applications. There’s also a discussion of undersink filter systems, whole-house filter systems, and a useful FAQ (frequently asked questions) button for the neophytes out there. In most instances, this is a non-descript addition to any website, but it never made more sense than it does here. You’re lucky if you get three or four questions on most sites. This one has over 25, and they are pertinent.
I then try "Softeners" and "Acid Neutralizers" and find even more FAQs. "UV" is a smaller entry and contains only a few FAQs. "Reverse Osmosis" returns to a large entry of specifications and FAQs. Finally, "Countertop Water Filtration" caps off the list with some products and a nice FAQ collection.
A funny thing happened on the way to completing my website column--a Water Matters article broke out. Well, not really, but this is a small portion of the NSF International website. From the page’s heading--"Building & Plumbing Officials Bulletin"--one can gather that we are going to find much about codes, regulations and certifications. Needless to say, we aren’t disappointed. Then again, it’s NSF, not the QVC for fans of ¾-inch PVC pipe.
During this occasion (I presume the featured topic changes periodically), I am greeted with a rather detailed discussion on "crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) flexible tubing for hot and cold water applications." Unfazed, my eyes drift toward the left side of the page where I see main buttons with hyperlinks lurking. Surely, there are some good nuggets of information here.
There are 14 main buttons not including NSF’s home page. We will explore a couple of the more pertinent ones here. One acronym that eventually ends up in plumbing and certification circles is IAPMO, or the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (see EXTRA). At the first button listed, we discover that NSF is IAPMO-certified, which means their "laboratory test data for plumbing, mechanical and related products are accepted by IAPMO."
As we work ourselves down to the fifth button, Water Filters: What Should Officials Tell Consumers?, the site says water filters were to the ’90s what garbage disposals were to the ’70s. Interesting analogy. I read on. The site makes suggestions to building and plumbing officials on how they should handle queries from customers. The categories are broken down by "Is my drinking water safe?" "Municipal water systems," "Private wells" and "Reducing contaminants." As a plumber, you probably can guess the advice, but it’s a worthy addition to the site.
End Use Marks for Plastic and Piping System Components is the ninth button and serves to clear up some confusion. On any plastic or piping equipment, NSF uses certain marks (letters and numbers) to identify what each signifies. Here, you can get explanations on NSF-pw, NSF-wc, NSF-dwv, NSF-dwv I/O, NSF-cw, NSF-tubular, NSF-drain, NSF-61, NSF-rfh, NSF-sewer and NSF-(end use) SE.
For more plumbing related newsletters, see: www.nsf.org/newsletters/summary.html
"Welcome to the information warehouse!" the home page greets the site’s visitors. I have my hopes up that this may not turn into a commercial site after all. As I scroll down--past energy efficiency, heating systems and controls, legislation and regulations, useful links and general plumbing issues--I wonder if this is a dead-end. The last feature is serendipitously called "Water Treatment & Conditioning." Bingo!
This feature is designed to "clarify the key problems associated with water heating devices and systems, in particular, scale, corrosion and fouling, for both direct and indirect usage." Fair enough, so I click on the link. I scroll down and find a link to the United Kingdom Physical Water Conditioning Association (UKPWCA) so I conclude this site derives from England (I didn’t go to college for nothin’).
Toward the middle of the page is the crux of it all. It contains a list of five topics--why does water cause a problem, the problems defined and solutions available, manufacturers product solutions, legislation and British standards, and UKPW.
The first topic discusses the potential for water problems in central heating systems. Some of these include acid rain, scale, reduced efficiency, corrosion and fouling. As for problems and subsequent solutions, the latter is presented in two broad categories--chemical treatment and physical water conditioning. The main focus of each is inhibitors and magnets (somehow I don’t see magnets making it on a U.S.-based site, but that’s solely an observation). The next link provides some water conditioning manufacturers. BetzDearborn Ltd. is the only one I recognize. "Legislation and British Standards" covers requirements for physical water conditioners. This section is devoted to the controversial testing based on the German model being proposed in Britain. Finally, UKPW briefly gives the mission statement of the group as well as listing the members with links to company websites.
The majority of this looks as if it was a paid advertisement for UKPWCA and its members. But at the bottom of the page, we find a separate link (see "How to enjoy the luxury of soft water throughout your home") that looks as if it was paid for by Kinetico, a company with which we’re vastly more familiar. Subheads here include: "Advantages of soft water," "How does a water softener work?" and "Kinetico Technical Specifications." See what I mean…
(P.S. You’re also invited to visit www.plumbingpages.com where you can select between "consumers" and "plumbers" as entries into the main site.)
A plethora of information here, including 32 icons on the home page for water filters, softeners, coolers, faucets, fittings, showerheads, valves, pumps, etc., and a link at the bottom of the page to a 1,400 page A-Z product catalog. Not much uniformity in what you’ll get on any of the page links from these icons. Water Filters seems to have the most technical information with a number of headers "Filter FAQs," "General FAQs," "Filter Comparison Chart," "Cartridge Selection Guide," etc. Water Softeners has a product promotion for Economizer softeners at the top, but below that is a long list of what appear to be valid FAQs. The rest are primarily commercial links that connect you with an online shopping cart.
Generally, navigation for the website is pretty bad because there’s no clear link to much of the best information, which I discovered at www. plumbingworld.com/books.html. This lists a number of plumbing related books that are likely very valuable to plumbers and water specialists alike. At the top of this page, though, are additional links where you can hyperjump to "The History of the Toilet," "Our Fun Quotes Page," "Bathroom Reading Books" and "Other Plumbing Information." The last provides a number of additional links and basic information on plumbing advice, terminology, piping/fittings flow and sizing charts, standards, chemical compatibility, etc.
Now, this is the good stuff and worthy of bookmarking.
Like any other highly visible enterprise, plumbing is coming under greater scrutiny by legislators and certification is gaining more validity throughout the industry. To this end, there are numerous sites that can benefit plumbers and consumers alike. Moreover, in almost every plumbing site, there exists a connection between plumbing and water conditioning and treatment. It would behoove both vocations if they knew about each other’s codes and regulations so co-existence would advance water quality for those who need it or desire it the most.
Piping up about the sites
Don’t want to leave the house for that last piece of tubing needed for that weekend project? Why fight the lines at Home Depot? Click here for a smorgasbord of products and not miss a single down of football.
It’s all about NSF. But this site also provides good insight into party testing. No, not that kind of party. You know…first, second and third-party testing. Plus, find out what all those letters and numbers on tubing and the like mean.
Learn more about physical water conditioning with a decidedly British slant. Water heating system aficionados will appreciate this more than most. Doubtful of magnets? This site probably won’t change your mind.
If you blink and simply skip by the home page, you’ll miss most of the good stuff on this site due to bad navigational tools. But this may be the best of the bunch!
EXTRA--Some plumbing/building regulation sites
* IAPMO: www.iapmo.org
* Southern Building Code Congress International: www.sbcci.org
* ICBO Code Central: www.icbo.org
* International Code Council: www.intlcode.org
FYI: Tying up some loose ends--more plumbing venues
A basic how-to on water filtration equipment and installation.
Ever wondered how they plumb the space station? Beam yourself up and find out here.
Lists the "greatest plumbing & heating inventions prior to 1975," which begs the question--were there any after 1975?
The online news magazine of mechanical contracting.
A coding tome from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Another product site of plumbing, pipe and fittings.
A sizable links page for plumbing companies.
Interested in only pipes and tubing? Here you go.